Writing for the Audience vs Writing for You

Many writers have faced this predicament when starting out. Some know which road to naturally take, whilst others can get a bit confused.

As an aspiring author I’m often told two conflicting points of view, one is ‘write for you’ and the other is to ‘write for your audience.’ I mean, the audience are the ones that are going to read it. It can be extremely stressful when caught between these two worlds. On one hand you’re told, essentially, that if you don’t write for the audience then no one will buy your book, but if you don’t write for you then your story will be poor.

So which is it? What advice do you follow? I mean, there’s a reason that certain books explode in popularity whilst others disappear, surely. The marketing departments in book publishing companies aren’t senseless.

One example, the most obvious anyway, is Young Adult female-led dystopian fantasy. The genre has skyrocketed, partially in thanks to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. According to Goodreads there are 104 that fit the bill, but somehow it feels like more. Yet, editors tell writers to change things in their work all the time. It is a part of the hoops one has to jump in order to get published.

In my desperation to just write the story and not focus on anything else, I’d be adamant that writing for me is the goal any writer should make. In fact, I once told myself that I wasn’t going to jump through anyone’s hoops as self-publishing is now a thing, and I didn’t want to write a passionless story. I told myself that writing for the market wasn’t in my story’s best interest. I mean, we don’t always get a say on how our characters will behave in the ebb and flow of the narrative. So imagine my surprise when I found myself struggling to read the very genre I have spent the last ten years burying myself in.

In my post-contract non-writing state, I decided to do some reading. I’m constantly hearing that in order to be a good writer one must first read, so there I go. Fantasy can be a difficult genre to get into, particularly if you are new, but I’ve often considered myself a fantasy geek through and through. Reading, writing, watching and playing are almost always fantasy or science-fiction for me, in any of the sub-genres.

As I became an audience member as opposed to author, I suddenly became hyper-aware of all the obstacles that the audience must go through in order to read. It’s stupidly simple when written like that, but it is a case of being in the box too long as an author and then seeing it from the outside. I realised all the ways in which I could easily be saturating the audience with exposition and not even noticing it when I write.

Reading is great for an author as one can learn valuable writing skills, but not every reader is a great writer. I know people who have read thousands of books but would struggle with writing a page. So, why should one really read in order to become a better writer? Well, I believe it is a crash course in empathy lessons: to remind the writer what it is like to read a story that one hasn’t thought about every single day since its conception. That way the story has a better chance at being fit for an audience’s consumption.

So am I saying to write for the audience? Well, yes and no. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Writing exclusively for you will build walls and make marketing your book much, much harder in the long run. It will show inflexibility to publishers who may be interested in your work but offer advice you’re unwilling to take. One can write their own book with the same level of passion and make it for the audience. It takes time and nerve, ultimately, to put your work through these stressors and have something tangible at the end of it. It can be hard if you’re not mentally resound enough to hear that someone has a ‘better’ idea for your novel. Yet this advice, one must remember, comes from professionals who have probably been helping books get published for years and even decades longer than you’ve been writing. It’s their livelihood and it isn’t through maliciousness that they say this. They – as agents, editors, and publishers – are also your audience too.

In the end, I guess my advice is to write your novel your way first – just get it written down! – and then slowly in the later drafts implement in the your reader-friendliness. That’s if it isn’t already there, and if that’s what you want. You want a book that reads well, right? But for who, you or everyone else?

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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